Ask for testers from the community that will/do use the site. Go out and seek people with different technological and physical capabilites and needs and build up a strong and diverse user testing base for invaluable, direct, practical feedback.
A council's website should publish data in open formats which can be resused by external bodies or individuals.
Raw data of council meetings, statistics, records all available as Linked Data
It needs to be low cost so the council is happy to change things quickly. Big investments lead to sticking with solutions that are possibly outdated or inappropriate, simply because of the money sunk.
I know Newcastle City Council are already toying with the idea, but I may have a way for monetising all that decent traffic such sites generate via a self-serve DIY ad system, www.addiply.com You can see it in beta trail mode on www.TheLichfieldBlog.co.uk where both the local Tory MP, Michael Fabricant, is digitally engaging with his constituents and where Lichfield DC itself is due to follow suit. Beauty of Addiply ...more »
I know most meetings are considered important by the people in them but rather than just providing PDFs of a meeting it'd be great to be able to listen to the cut and thrust of a meeting as it happened.
Although many Councils are tied into licensed products which they have invested heavily in, it's worth planning ahead. Open source software offers a great deal of flexibility.
All pages on the website should make it easy for the user to vote as to whether it was useful or not, so poor content can easily be identified by the web team.
Use http://getsatisfaction.com to collect problems and suggestions in one place.
Then have people employed to answer them, and engage in a conversation about the most interesting ones.
Learn from where your site works well; find out where it doesn't work well and improve it. Make good use of customer feedback and site analytics to identify problems, and customer-focused solutions.
The search engine on the site should be prominent and *work* - ie not produce lists of thousands of PDFs or word documents.
The home page should have a list of links that cover the main user tasks, as well as allowing the user to search by keyword, subject area, and offer predictive results as they type.